Cadel Evans’ two previous spells in the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia have been ephemeral – he surrendered the lead after just a single day in both 2002 and 2010 – but there was little danger of him being stripped of that burden on the haul to Sestola at the end of stage 9.
For the second day running, there was something of a stalemate between the principal overall contenders, with only Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) breaking the deadlock by dancing clear on the steepest slopes with five kilometres remaining.
Taking a leaf from his playbook at 2011 Tour de France, when Evans was rigorously selective in responding to attacks, he opted not to chase down Pozzovivo, but did spark into action a little later to track a tentative move from Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
"I didn’t respond to every attack from kilometre zero to the finish, no, but to the important ones, yes," said Evans, who crossed the line in the same time as Uran and Nairo Quintana, but conceded 26 seconds to Pozzovivo.
"Now Pozzovivo is moving up the classification and I won’t be the only rider considering him as a bigger rival in the general classification now. I imagine he’ll be watched a bit more closely from now on and it might be harder for him to win a stage. His team was very impressive yesterday."
For now, however, Evans’ crosshairs seem to be fixed firmly on Uran, who lies second overall at 57 seconds and the pre-race favourite Quintana, who is in 9th place, 1:45 down. Both riders were among the fallers in the mass crash beneath Montecassino on Thursday, with Quintana, in particular, still suffering the effects of his injuries.
"Quintana is someone who hasn’t been as strong as we expected up to now, but he’ll get there," Evans warned. "Last year he went from Liège to the Tour de France without racing was second overall. This year he’s come in to the Giro without racing for a while, but I expect he will find his legs."
It remains to be seen whether Uran, Quintana and the other Colombians in the peloton could become allies of circumstance against Evans once the race enters the high mountains in the third week, and the maglia rosa was circumspect when asked if there might be a similar understanding between the Australians on the race.
"Between the Colombians, maybe there’ll be cooperation, maybe there won’t be," Evans said. "Sometimes there’s envy and jealousy among compatriots and sometimes whether it’s for friendship compatriots help each other and sometimes for jealousy or envy they ride against one another. I’ve certainly seen friendships between the Colombians but there are friendships between the Australians here on this race. That’s just all part of it."
As the Giro heads into its second rest day – there was an additional pause after stage 3 to allow the race convoy travel to Italy from Ireland – Evans is in a more commanding position than he could have imagined at this early juncture, and with the time trial from Barbaresco to Barolo to come on Thursday, he has a golden opportunity to pad out his lead before the race enters the Alps next weekend.
"Like I said yesterday, every second of advantage I can get would be great. The Barolo time trial is certainly a place where I’d like to take time but I’ll just do the best time trial I can and then look at the results afterwards," Evans said. "I hope that a course suited to me should be to my advantage but we’ll see."
Evans cut a relaxed figure in his post-stage press conference, flitting between Italian and English, and making corrections and addendums to the translations from each language. From the outset, he said, preparing for the Giro has proved a less stressful ordeal than his all-encompassing quest to win the Tour de France had been.
"I’ve prepared seriously for this Giro but I could work in a calmer manner because it’s not every day that you go out of your house and people ask you if you’re going to win the Giro d’Italia," he said. "When you’re a contender for the Tour, every day people ask you if you’re going to win the Tour and after a while that gets a bit tiring."
Asked if he regretted the prospect of missing out on riding the Tour this year, Evans was succinct. "Not at the moment," he said. "I’m quite enjoying this Giro d’Italia."